on m/m romance, baking, knitting, and occasional smut

Tag Archives: High School

PitchLGTitle: Pitch
Author: Will Parkinson
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Harmony Ink)
Length: 53,637 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Debut Novel, High School, Unrequited Love, Closeted, Best Friends, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Coming Out, Coming of Age, Art/Artists, Sports, Baseball, Athletes, Abuse, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Not Feelin’ It

BLURB

The day Jackson Kern walks into Taylor Andrews’s classroom is a momentous day in Taylor’s life. He’s had crushes before, sure, but as time goes on, this is starting to look a whole lot more serious. Still, Jackson doesn’t return Taylor’s feelings.

Taylor has his own admirers, though. Kevin Richards is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants right now is Taylor, so when Taylor rejects him, Kevin retaliates. At first Taylor’s entourage rallies around him, but then Kevin takes his deception one step further and Taylor sees his support dwindle, teaching him the valuable lesson about who he can truly consider a friend.

REVIEW

I’m always eager to pick up a baseball book and even though I’ve been interested in several and still plan to review a few of them, it has been a while since I’ve picked up a book from DSP’s young adult imprint. From what I gather in the acknowledgements, this is Will Parkinson’s debut novel. Sometimes it’s a gamble picking books to read by a new author or an author I’ve never read, but that’s another part of reviewing that I like. Reviewing gives me the opportunity to read new authors and it feels like I get to enjoy more of the perks, like finding a surprise that’s worth it. Often, it’s different though and while I like some of those books I also don’t like some of them. I’m afraid to say that this book fell into the latter camp for me. While it wasn’t a total disappointment, I just didn’t connect with the book.

Taylor is a gay sophomore in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin high school. His best friend Benny is straight and the only person alive who knows his secret. They’re best friends and always have been and Benny is a rather special guy that is wise beyond his years, intelligent and loyal. Pitch opens on the day that a new student starts at Taylor’s school. Jackson walks into Taylor’s homeroom, looking nervous and totally sexy and Taylor immediately wants to draw him. What follows over the next year is an intense unrequited love that just doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how hard Taylor tries and Benny cautions. No matter how much Taylor is told that Jackson is disgusted by his little boy crush from Jackson’s cheerleader girlfriend, Taylor just can’t seem to stay away.

It isn’t until he and Benny gain some perspective on their problems during the next summer, camp counseling for abused kids, that Taylor starts to grow up. He still has feelings for Jackson, but he’s less likely now to follow him around like a lost puppy. So when a kid from a neighboring school asks him out during their Halloween dance, Taylor decides to take him up on it. He really starts to like Kevin, but he is prey unknowingly walking into Kevin’s trap. It takes some extremely tough decisions and way too much heartbreak and drama to realize that much of what he thought before wasn’t true, about most of the people he knew.

There are two aspects of this novella that I had a difficult time with. The first are the characters. This, especially, is subjective. Part of what oftentimes makes a young adult novel good are the bad choices of the characters. More often than not young adult stories have a moral and it can walk a fine line in the hands of the author between preachy and poignant. The style of this story went a bit over the top and that just wasn’t something that I was really looking for. For high school students, who I freely admit can be some of the cruelest humans on Earth, many of the actions of these characters went beyond immature and foolhardy. I would have appreciated the characters and their decisions (even the bad ones) more if their actions had been more subtle and less ascribed to their particular archetype. Kevin’s actions in particular required me to suspend disbelief a few times.

As I said before, those decisions and your own feelings about them are more subjective than usual. My other problem with this story was in the writing. I applaud this author for writing and writing and sharing their work. But like many new authors I think that there were some fundamental writing problems that this author needs to work on. Mostly it will just take continued writing, so even though this book wasn’t for me, I sincerely hope that this author keeps up with it. Part of the novice prose problems were dialogue and restraint. In a way, the second has quite a bit to do with the first. This book didn’t fall into too bad of a habit of telling rather than showing, but there is importance in letting the characters express themselves in their own ways instead of being a vehicle to express the author’s view. I’m not talking about preaching about issues or anything like that here. I simply mean the difference between the characters’ observations and personality and the author’s. Almost continually there were times while reading this that I stopped and thought that a character wouldn’t say or think that. The dialogue, in a similar way, oftentimes sounded familiar for all the characters and didn’t seem to represent the individual characters. Restraint is important because readers don’t need all the information. It’s a partnership, you know? The readers picks up on the clues the author leaves and pieces them together and in that way one small action tells you more about the character than a whole page of narration.

Ultimately, this book just wasn’t for me because of the more dramatic plot twists. I have seen a couple of 5-star reviews around so I’ll be interested to see if any other readers/reviewers feel the way I do, or if this turns out to be a reader favorite. I’ve been a part of the more unpopular opinion before!


SL_MT_TrueTitle: True
Author: Sabrina Luna
Publisher: MLR
Length: 9k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, MLR Mixtapes, Flashback/Memories, 1980s, Music, Established Relationships, First Times, High School, College, Friends
Rating: So So

BLURB

Dan Rockwell finds a mix tape in an old trunk which brings back memories of a special night in 1984.

When Dan Rockwell discovers a mix tape in an old trunk in his parents’ attic, it brings back fond memories. Coaxed by his partner, Dan recalls Russ Hill, the guy who gave him the mix tape, and their very sexy Spring night together back in 1984.

REVIEW

Dan is with his partner of ten years, Ian, cleaning out his mother’s attic space when they come across an old trunk that very obviously according to it’s decoration, once belonged to a young Dan. At Ian’s urging, Dan opens the trunk to find memories from his teenaged years — including one mixtape — the memory of which obviously seems to mean a lot to Dan. Ian wants to hear the story of where it came from and why it means so much to Dan. He’s somewhat reluctant to tell Ian, not because they don’t tell each other everything about their past lovers anyway, but because it’s a special memory to him.

On their drive home, Dan starts the story and we flash back to 1984, the year of Dan’s senior year of high school where he’s invited to a house party of a friend now in college and learns that another roommate there is Russ, his friend from high school that he lost touch with when he went away to college. Dan always had feelings for Russ, feelings that he had a hard time exploring. Russ was all around perfect — really cute, brave enough to come out, very smart and an incredibly talented artist – where Dan feels he’s none of those things. In fact, he’s still in the closet and totally scared of anyone finding out about him.

The story continues when Russ and Dan start talking at the party, and when one thing leads to another and the rest of the guys decide to move the party elsewhere, the guys are left alone in an empty house. Dan is suddenly faced with the assurance that for the first time something is going to happen and totally excited that of all guys, that something is going to happen with Russ Hill. Then he puts in the mixtape…

In some ways I can see where this might be a disappointing story for some. There’s really no romance and not much plot here. The story is basically Dan recounting a night in his past for his partner, but we don’t learn a lot about that partner. In fact, we learn a whole lot more about Russ than we do about Ian. I found that to be a little sad, not only because it would help the story so much to have an understanding of the present day and Dan’s relationship with his partner, but also because I have a feeling that while Dan may have fond memories of his first time that Russ probably wasn’t as interesting as Ian. Maybe I feel that way because I wanted to know Ian better, but I also wanted to know the man that Dan has spent 10 years with rather than the boy that he spent a night with.

I labelled this as Contemporary Erotic Romance, but I didn’t feel that it was in particular a “romance” nor that it was “erotica”. We don’t get a romance because the man that Dan is with isn’t really known to us, and his relationship with Russ isn’t really enough to constitute even a failed romance, and his first sexual encounter isn’t really even particularly that erotic, just some playing that, for sure is a big deal for a first time, but otherwise not as much.

At the same time, I have to give this story props because even with all of those things I’ve written I still really enjoyed this story and I didn’t feel that in any particular area it really failed in a big way (except with present day Ian, which I talked about). This story read for me as more of a short gay fiction story, whether the author intended that or not. There’s a happy ending, but it’s not part of the story we really read about, it’s because we know that today as the story ends Dan is in a happy place. In 1984, his one night with Russ Hill is overall a bit disappointing. Still, I found the emotions that Dan has about that time in his life to be appropriately subtle in many ways across the board — fondness, sadness, memory of his excitement and his overall disappointment. Even more than that, I gave this story a whole extra point (star…what have you) simply because that whole encounter between Russ and Dan was so real. You can feel Dan’s nervousness and his excitement and the feeling that something out of control is happening to him but which he’d never ever say no to! And at the same time, you can at once see the dichotomy between them and their experience. Dan is fresh and overwhelmed and Russ is experienced and nonchalant and at the same time just a little bit jaded. He’s obviously glad he got Dan into his bed, but I (as the reader) got the feeling that to Russ that’s all that really mattered. Dan, as this is something he looked forward to and wanted for so long automatically has deeper meaning for him. That is something that he doesn’t figure out until later.

Honestly, I didn’t expect a whole lot from this story because I don’t know this author. I assumed that this was a new author, thought she apparently isn’t and I just wasn’t familiar with her before. In the end, this is a mixed bag for me. Some of the writing was really excellent, but some of the story crafting was disappointing. So So

Oh, before I go! Has anyone else been listening to the song when it pops up in the story? I put it up on iTunes whenever I read one of these stories and when they put the mixtape in and started…. well, you know, and “ah, ah, ah, hah ah… I know this much is truuuuee” I started CRACKING UP LAUGHING 😉 I was born in 1984 so this song, instead, just made me think of “The Wedding Singer” with Adam Sandler instead!


FourCornersLGTitle: Four Corners
Author: Kate McMurray
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 72,033 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Kate McMurray Week!, Friends to Lovers, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Best Friends, Childhood Friends, Baseball, Sports, Flashbacks, High School, Second Chances, Chicago
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Since childhood, Jake, Adam, Kyle, and Brendan have been teammates, best friends, brothers. Then one day, when they were twenty-five, Adam disappeared without a word, devastating his friends—none more so than Jake, who had secretly loved Adam since they were teenagers.

Now, five years later, Adam is back, and he has his mind set on Jake. But those years of anger, hurt, and confusion are a lot to overcome, and Jake doesn’t find it easy to forgive. He isn’t sure they’ll ever fit together the way they did. Jake, Kyle, and Brendan have moved on with their lives, but Adam’s high-profile career keeps him in the closet—the same place he’s been for years. Still, his apologies seem sincere, and the attraction is still there. Jake desperately wants to give him a chance. But first he has to find out why Adam left and if he’s really back for good.

REVIEW

Whew, this was a doozy for me — an intensely personal read and one that’s particularly difficult for me to review. The basis of the story is a bit of a Big Chill setup. Four childhood friends (the Four Corners because of the bases they all played on their high school baseball team) are split up when one of then, Adam, disappears for 5 years. Jake has been in love with Adam since they were in their early teens. Actually, probably before that but he didn’t know what his feelings meant. Though he knows that Adam is gay as well, it’s something they don’t speak of. When they all leave to go their separate ways for college, Jake is free to move on from his feelings for Adam and explore his sexuality.

But when Adam leaves, it destroys their close family. A new dynamic emerges over Adam’s five year absence. Brendan and Kyle become the ones Jake is closest to, and though they’re both straight (well, Kyle is a question mark!), they’re fiercely protective of him. It’s obvious that in all these years no one has claimed the feelings that Jake still harbors for Adam. But now those feelings are tainted with anger at Adams absence and confusion over what Jake did to make him leave.

When Adam turns up, almost as if nothing ever happened, their new dynamic as three best friends are thrown out of whack. But Jake can’t stay away from Adam. And when Adam starts doing whatever he can to make up his absence to Jake, it throws all of their relationships in turmoil. Why did Adam leave, refusing contact all those years? And can he ever really come to terms with being gay and out?

As I said, this was an intensely personal read for me. I have a feeling that some readers might have a hard time understanding Adam and why he did what he did. Make no mistake — despite my feelings, I felt like Kate McMurray did a remarkable job explaining his emotional turmoil and what he was going through to make him take such drastic action as to leave everyone behind. But, without going into too many details… I’ve been in that position before and so I could really understand what makes someone want to flee and the intense betrayal that causes.

I admired the writing in this story. I can’t say that it’s my favorite of Kate’s novels, but that’s only because I love Out in the Field so much that this book would have to be absolutely extraordinary to top that. But, this is really a grown up romance novel. Not to say that any kind of book with sex in it is childish! But… I think that this story is given care to represent a situation and real emotion in a way that isn’t sugarcoated. The characters aren’t written to be liked, but to simply play out their emotions, through which they make you like them. In fact, my feelings about both Adam and Jake were ambiguous until over halfway through the story when I felt like they both, at the same time, were starting to be accountable for their actions.

I rarely say this, but my favorite part of this book were the flashbacks. They aren’t classic flashbacks, more Jake’s memories depending on where he is in the story and what he’s thinking. But they tie the past and present perfectly together, framing the similarities and differences between the past Adam and Jake and the present Adam and Jake and showing the drastic dynamic change between the group of friends. It’s this atmosphere and mood of joy and solidarity created by the flashbacks that just how Adam’s disappearance messed up their group.

This is definitely a recommended read. And no matter how personal of a read it was for me, it wasn’t particularly angst-filled. Kate seems to have a knack, now that I realize I’ve said something similar in most of my reviews of her books this week, for allowing the characters their emotional turmoil but not taking things too far. The epilogue is sweet and gives this story a firm HEA. There’s also a free short sequel called “Shortstop” that was posted recently on the Dreamspinner Facebook page. I can’t find the link and I can’t find it on the Dreamspinner FB page (thought I didn’t have long to look), but I know it’s there from a google search. So, if you can find it, it’s really cute and shows Jake and Adam as a couple two years after the end of the novel.

Edit: Here’s the link to the free sequel short, “Shortstop”: http://dreamspinnerpress.com/blog/2013/05/24/sexy-anniversary-short-shortstop-by-kate-mcmurray/

Make sure to read my interview with Kate McMurray today!


survivingelitehighTitle: Surviving Elite High (Surviving Elite High #1)
Author: John H Ames
Publisher: Budding Moon Press (an imprint of Storm Moon Press)
Length: 53k words
Genre: m/m Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Keywords/Tags: Series, High School, Nerd/Jock, Nerds/Geeks, Poor/Rich, School Shooting, Bullying, Bisexual
Rating: Didn’t Like It

BLURB

John Henry Ames is a sixteen-year-old boy from a small New Jersey town. John is humble, shy, and studious. He lives as an outcast in the shadows of an elite high school where he is tormented by two psychopathic bullies.

On the verge of dropping out of school due to overdue payments, a teacher enrolls him in a tutoring program where he meets the school’s star quarterback and hero, Nick Anthony Hawking. Since he was doing poorly in several subjects, Nick needs John’s help to pass and graduate high school. As John becomes closer to the jock, he develops a strong affection towards him even though Nick has a strong reputation of sleeping around with a lot of women. Nick becomes his friend and protector in school. Their sincere friendship helps to bring out the best in each of them, even as several tragedies, like a school shooting, threaten to change their young lives forever.

REVIEW

I am sorry to say that I had to force myself to finish this. And I definitely won’t be reading the rest of the series. I originally picked this up because I was in the mood for a high school young adult romance at the time, and I quite like reading the nerd/jock trope. I thought I was lucky, actually, that the book had been released prior in another edition and goodreads had so many reviews. And even luckier that there were so many good reviews — no, great reviews! I should have read further. If I had, I would have found all the one star reviews, and though I might have taken the gamble on which camp I’d fall into, I might not have, in which case I wouldn’t have had to force myself to finish for the review.

I suppose it could be said that it is personal taste how some people love this book and others hate it, and to some extent I’m sure that’s true. After all, the prose is highly melodramatic and that’s something I look out for in young adult books because I’m not a bit fan. I prefer less angst and less melodrama in my young adult books. For the most part, however, I just couldn’t understand how so many people loved this book. I couldn’t connect with the writing at all, which I found at times really, really awkward, with strange word choices. Even more, I just did not understand or like any of the characters. The two leads, John Henry Ames (same name as the author, which made me wonder if this was autobiographical) and Nick, the popular and rich quarterback whose like a breeding stallion on meth with a horse sized cock that, and yes this was mentioned, is so big is breaks women so that they can’t walk after they sleep with him. And I don’t really feel that I’m being that biased here by my overall feelings after reading the book. This was why I couldn’t get into the story, everything was so over the top that I felt like it undermined the real emotions at play. From page one John is obsessed with Nick and Nick doesn’t really treat him that well either. But that’s who Nick is, which John already knows.

Honestly, I just found the whole book a bit strange and surreal. Sure, it wasn’t to my taste, but I just don’t understand how so many people liked it so much. I almost feel like I’m missing something.

I don’t want to rag on this book anymore. I know that you understand how I feel perfectly by now so there’s no reason for me to go on and on. And really, you shouldn’t take just my feelings into account. Even though I don’t understand it, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of reading a book they might really like. And so many people seem to really like this book. So, even more than usual, I encourage you to read a wide range of reviews on this one if you’re considering buying.


VestigeLGTitle: Vestige
Author: KJ Pedersen
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 56,489 words
Genre: M/M Contemporary Paranormal Horror Romance
Heat: 3 – Mild & Sexy
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Young Adult Characters, Bisexual, Homophobia, Religious Mythology, Drinking/Drug Use (weed), High School, Hawaii, Closeted/Coming Out
Rating: Not Feelin’ It

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

Josiah Halden’s life is coming apart. He’s an athletic, handsome high school senior bound for college. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s struggling with his sexuality and nursing a crush on John from his gym class, and he’s plagued by nightmares and impossible visions of the night his parents died—visions he fears are an early indicator of the mental illness that runs in his family.



But the nightmares are part of something more sinister than madness, something linked to the strange black iron idol of a Caananite warrior-god Josiah inherited from his father, which keeps showing up in his dreams. Josiah’s friend Makani insists the statue is “wrong”—but that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? After all, it’s only a statue….

REVIEW

When it took me several days to read this book, I knew that something definitely was not working for me. The opening prologue was quite unsettling. It read like something from a horror novel, which is a genre that I avoid like the plague. This did not bode well. What follows is a book that seemed to me to be very confused as to what it wants to be when it grows up. Horror? Coming of age/coming out? Paranormal? Religious/alien mythology? There were so many elements and so many things going on that I found myself trying to keep up with the various threads of the book and ultimately not really caring about any of them.

The main story is about a boy, Josiah Halden, whose British parents were brutally murdered and the culprit was never caught. He has been raised by his aunt and uncle on the Big Island of Hawaii (a really lovely place that you should try to visit), which is the setting of this story. He is a senior in high school and he’s in the “popular” jock crowd but he’s got a secret that is causing him a lot of angst. He is definitely not straight and he’s getting some grief from his friends. On top of that, he is on his own while his aunt and uncle are away and he’s having horrible nightmares that seem to be linked to a mysterious statue that he inherited from his parents. He is also attracted to a boy in his class, John, who is new from mainland. His friends are giving John a really hard time and he also has an awful home life that includes a lazy homophobic father. John is attracted to Josiah as well, but he is terrified of anyone knowing that he might be gay.

Josiah also has a good friend Makani who he had grown distant from over the years, but they seem to be rekindling their friendship – which has had a sexual component. Makani is also good friends with John and especially John’s younger brother. There is quite a bit of conflict with these different groups of friends for Josiah and he tries to walk the line and keep friendly with all of them. The stress of this social pressure and the nightmares are making Josiah think he is going crazy and since there is a family history, he is really concerned. He confides his concerns to Makani who tries to calm him.

Interspersed in this narrative of Josiah’s life is this ongoing “history” of the origin of the statue in question. This statue seems to be the source of the bad things that happen. I have to say that part of the story held zero interest for me. I just wanted to get through it and get on with the story. Ultimately there is a tragedy that devastates all of the boys and there is a confrontation that was pretty unbelievable to me and finally it was over.

While the population of this novel is mainly young adults (high school age boys 18 and under), I was a little surprised by the amount of underage drinking, drug use and casual sex that takes place. I know it has not been marketed as Young Adult, nor should it be for these reasons. In the end, this story just didn’t work for me on any level.


somethingnewanddifferent400Title: Something New and Different
Author: Beth Wirth
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 18k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Kiss Me at Midnight collection, Aliens, Texas, Diverse Pairings, Swordplay, New Years, High School, Post Apocalypse
Rating: Not Feelin’ It

BLURB

Dragged by his stepfather to the edge of civilization in rural Texas, Matthew hates everything. The butt of a drunken dare, Kyle hates Matthew. And that’s when the aliens invaded.

REVIEW

I must admit that I’m a little disappointed. I’ve been eagerly awaiting another story from Beth Wirth since she wrote The Hunt of the Cold Moon (my review) and Less Than Three Press released it as part of The Bestiary collection. I really liked that story, but more than that I admired the writing and made sure to watch out for what seems to be a new, talented author. I have no doubt that she is, but for me, this story missed the mark.

Matthew moved to Texas several months ago and has been making all the wrong choices to fit in. On a dare, he kisses Kyle at a party and makes the man think he really wants him, only to hurt Kyle horribly when everyone starts cheering that he won the bet. The problem is — Matthew actually likes Kyle, and now he’s messed everything up. In an almost allegorical reflection of the utter mess of Matthew’s life, aliens attack during a football game, and Texas explodes into a post-apocalyptic frenzy of alien/human warfare. And while trying to make his way out of it and to his family, Matthew runs into Kyle and his mysterious friend. Not only will he get the answers into the alien invasion, but Matthew will have a chance to repair his relationship with Kyle.

The core of this story really isn’t bad — in fact, I liked it. I simply had a problem with the execution. Most of the story is told instead of shown. There are long passages of narration and summary over time and then, when it isn’t needed and it would be preferable to drop us into a scene and show us what is happening, we’re again told what is happening, what people think, and how people act without seeing it for ourselves. On top of that, I really never understood some of the decisions the characters make. For the whole story Matthew talks about how he has to find his little sister (who he was separated from when the aliens attacked and hasn’t found), but instead of actively looking for her he wanders for days and weeks with Kyle around Texas. It didn’t really make much sense to me, when he wasn’t sure if his little sister was even alive.

Aside from the telling vs. showing, I liked the tone of the story. It’s a bit ridiculous and very casually treads the line between the reality (working to repair his relationship with Kyle) and the absurd (the alien invasion, and the often completely Matrix moves with his sword). It just felt like it was a bit incomplete and needed filling out here and there. I ended the story not really sure what to think and not having connected with the story or the characters.

So, I look forward to what this author will again write in the future, but maybe in a little more subdued way. Among the Kiss Me at Midnight stories, this definitely isn’t my favorite, and there are several others I’d recommend over this one. I say … skip it and read a different one. I can’t recommend this story.